Give us light rail scheme - not a green belt busway, say campaigners against GCP’s Cambridge South East Transport route
A new busway proposed by the Greater Cambridge Partnership would cut across the Gog Magog Hills potentially destroying large swathes of green belt land, say campaigners.
More than 200 people gathered to protest against the Cambridge South East Transport scheme, which will be discussed by the GCP’s joint assembly on Thursday (June 10).
Waving banners and placards, the group of residents organised by Stapleford Parish Council met last Thursday to highlight their opposition to the £130million busway.
They say a light rail route sited along the disused rail tracks of the former Haverhill railway line would be a much more sensible option than the new busway as it would “preserve the green belt land for the enjoyment of our grandchildren”. They are calling for the current scheme to be paused.
Stapleford Parish Council chair Cllr Howard Kettel said: “The protest was amazing. We were completely bowled over with the numbers who turned up – we ended up with more than 200 people coming. It was a fantastic atmosphere.
“This just shows there is a silent majority who are against ripping up our green belt and we haven’t been given the opportunity to voice those feelings.
“We have got a unique landscape which defines Cambridge. The Magog hills give a commanding view over Cambridge and it’s a remarkable view over the downs. All that is being sacrificed and not being valued. We believe these plans will be significantly damaging to that view and it’s an erosion to our green lung.
“What’s more, it’s obvious what will happen if this is approved. The fields will be truncated and will become uneconomic for farming and then there will be no planning obstacle to just filling in the space between the busway and our villages with housing.”
The GCP’s joint assembly will decide on Thursday whether to recommend the plans for approval at a meeting of its executive board next month.
South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne has called for the scheme - and the Cambourne to Cambridge busway - to be paused, now that there is doubt over the future of Combined Authority proposals for a Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro, which the busways would have fed into eventually.
The GCP’s preferred route for the Cambridge South East busway will start near the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and run parallel with the railway, before diverting to the east of Great Shelford and Stapleford and then crossing the River Granta and running east of Sawston.
The parish councils of Stapleford and Great Shelford commissioned an independent report in March to establish whether using the former Haverhill railway line as an alternative was technically possible after the GCP had ruled it out.
The report, produced by i-Transport, concluded the route was technically possible and disagreed with a number of the assumptions made by the GCP in reaching its conclusion.
A technical report in 2020 had found “alternative routes following the railway alignment would have lower benefits and higher costs”. But campaigners say the loss of green belt land and views has not been part of the GCP’s calculation.
Mr Kettle said: “The light rail route we suggest would actually serve more people than the chosen route because the chosen route bypasses the two villages and has a bus stop, which is over a kilometre away from the village centre. How many people will walk a kilometre to a bus stop when there is an existing number 57 bus that goes through our village? It doesn’t make sense. We haven’t seen any transparency in their model despite asking and we don’t believe it offers value for money.
“The busway they are proposing will be at full capacity from day one and they are not building in extra capacity to cope with the expanding Biomedical Campus. We believe the only way you build in capacity for that level of growth is to have a light rail system running parallel to the existing rail corridor.”
The campaigners want the GCP to “consider a truly integrated transport approach, not a silo approach which has to be a system scalable for growth”.
They also want the GCP to “demonstrate the economic case by monetising environmental factors including special landscapes”. They have urged the GCP to “choose sustainability over a carbon intensive bus-road and 2,000-space car park which undermines existing public transport”.
Subject to approval the busway is planned to open in 2025.
A GCP spokesperson said the project was developed in line with government guidelines and there had been three public consultations.
“The scheme will provide rapid and reliable journeys on a dedicated public transport route and active travel links for cycling and walking – improving air quality and providing better journeys for people travelling from the south east to the city or their place of work.
“Rail-based alternatives, including light rail, were considered but are more expensive, inflexible and would not be able to provide the level of connectivity needed to serve major new developments in the area.”
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